Monday, May 24, 2010

Are you walking by faith or by sight?

Are you walking by faith or sight?

I know that I am walking by faith because everything is great, no one is complaining, people like me, good things keep happening, and most of all I know that I'm walking by faith because other people tell me I'm doing a great job!

It is easy to fall into the habit of judging our spiritual lives with physical eyes. How do we judge the faithfulness of Stephen in Acts 7 When he stood by faith and proclaimed Jesus? Did he do the right thing? Was he walking by faith? Did his message become less faithful when the crowd dragged him out of the town and began to crush him with stones?

Sometimes the physical result of our daily walk is not the best identifier of faithfulness. If we look to the physical for affirmation we are training ourselves to walk by sight and not by faith.

Was the old woman who gave her last two coins in Luke 21 faithful in her giving? Jesus seemed to think she was faithful. But what if she were to run out of food at the end of the month? What happens if there is an emergency? She gave everything she had! Maybe she should have only given one coin and saved the other in reserve, in case of emergencies. Maybe she was TOO faithful!

Walking by faith has less to do with seeing physical results and more to do with trusting in a powerful God to accomplish His will in our lives. Lets worry about physical results less and trust in God more.

- Mike Wiist

Monday, May 17, 2010

Let me introduce you to "Sloth."

Sometimes I need a good hard kick in the behind to be reminded to act the way I know I'm supposed to. I got that the other day in the form of a teenager named Joel Wood making a speech for one of those national Christian leadership training events. I'll let you read it, and then I want to make some of my own observations at the end.

_“Ok, here’s the deal… I’m only here because my dad wants me to do this speech thing. So…I don’t really want to even do this…I just need to fill however many minutes it is (4 maybe?) so I can say I came to this lame church thing.”_

Let me introduce you to “Sloth.” Of the seven deadly sins, none is less famous than sloth. More a sin of omission than of commission, sloth seems out-of-place among the likes of greed, lust, pride, and wrath. True to its nature, it is inherently not noteworthy or significant. Or is it?? Sloth is actually more dangerous because it is insidious, sneaking in the back door, often disguised as “keeping a level head” or being easy-going or open-minded.

Most people think of sloth as just sitting around doing nothing, being physically lazy. But Whitestone Journal defines sloth as a kind of spiritual indifference, not making it a priority to do what we should, or change what we should in ourselves. Sloth is disengagement, the avoidance of being an active participant in life. Sloth, we assume, only affect those with pizza boxes stacked in the corner, people who sleep till the crack-of-noon to check Facebook for… you know, a while…. Sloth, we tend to think, doesn’t affect people working real jobs, meeting real deadlines and caring for real kids…. But we would mistaken.

It might be…
· …the middle-aged mom who, disappointed with her life, lives vicariously through reality TV or tabloid news.

· …a young adult not bothering to vote for anything, ever.

· …people of any age, who, born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths, never engage enough to realize their own potential or contribution to the world.

This is in stark contrast to the life of David we read about in the Old Testament. 2 Samuel continues the picture of young David painted in 1 Samuel. While 1 Samuel tells of David’s youth and long exile, 2 Samuel focuses on David as king—leading, uniting, inspiring his people. 2 Samuel didn’t paint David as a flawless character or perfect model of courage and strength. David had striking weaknesses. But his appeal was that he was completely, passionately alive. Whatever he did, he did with all his heart. He held nothing back. David was not a victim of sloth.

Don’t picture sloth as a harmless, laid-back couch potato. Sloth is more like the grim reaper, the messenger of death who pokes his bony fingers in the places in our lives that ought to be thriving… and watches them atrophy from lack of attention.

A few months ago in California, a 15-year-old girl was raped and beaten over a two-hour period by at least 10 people just outside her high school homecoming dance, while two dozen people saw the rape without notifying police, some of the onlookers jeering and taking pictures with cell phones.

Or the case of the 16-year-old Chicago honor student who was beaten to death last fall after crossing into a fight between rival gangs at a busy bus stop. Several people took videos that they later posted on YouTube.

We hear about these and are outraged and shocked, as much at the onlookers as at the assailants. What would cause so many to stand idly by, walk past, or fail to call 9-1-1? Perhaps sloth truly is a deadly sin.

So why is it thriving? According to author Wendy Wasserstein, this “sin” has become mired in a theological catch-22: sloth is bad because it impedes progress; progress is good because it enables us to be slothful. You see, for several hundred years, the great innovations in science, technology, and engineering—the wheel, the bellows, the cotton gin—were focused on reducing the amount of back-breaking labor humans must endure.

However, more recent technological innovations—the three-in-one remote, the riding lawnmower, the Clapper, & the robot vacuum Roomba—have seemed somewhat less momentous. Progress has moved beyond preserving human dignity to encouraging human sloth. Far from being a sin, it has become an aspiration.

The problem is, when we have more ‘takers’ than ‘givers,’ the system is no longer sustainable. We do need to change some things on the societal level. For example, passively watching a crime is not a crime itself, unless the victim is younger than 14.

But in reality, the only way to change slothful attitudes and behavior is one person at a time, and the only person who can change you is YOU. First, we need to make a series of small, incremental changes that, over time, will change ourselves and those around us. We can no longer afford to live with tunnel vision and assume that we responsible only for ourselves. We start that process by WAKING UP!

_Oh, look at that, I blew right past the 4-minute minimum… And I actually enjoyed it._

Given a choice between feeding my slothful nature, and completely, passionately living up to my God-given potential as David did, I’ll choose to live, to engage, to participate!

Okay, so what are my thoughts? As a former AIMer, I know the temptation of wanting to be behind-the-scenes in the local congregation, of looking for a church that's large enough for me to hide in (while still looking for one small enough to feel like family - quite the conundrum!). I know the tiredness that comes from constantly giving yourself to others spiritually, with none of the gratitude that should be a prerequisite from those who enjoy the benefits of your efforts. And I so I know, I think, where the danger of "sloth" comes for us. I really benefitted from Joel's reminder that sloth IS absolutely dangerous, and, as he said, so easy to get trapped in. From one potentially slothful ex-AIMer to another, let's not!

- Donovan Fox

Monday, May 10, 2010

Joseph as a missionary- Being forgotten

Genesis 40: 23 The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

In the Genesis story of Joseph, God's servant quickly finds himself in prison, following an act of righteous integrity and sexual accusation under Potiphar's roof. Joseph, still clearly obedient to God, waits patiently in prison as those around him anticipate their own fate within the barred walls. Eventually, God leads Joseph to interpret the dreams of two fellow prisoners. However, once the interpretation is completed and fulfilled, Joseph is once again quickly forgotten and left to die in his own personal dungeon.

Sound familiar? Maybe you were Joseph as an AIMer. Or maybe you were Joseph as a preacher, a coworker, a student, a son or daughter, a spouse, a parent, a friend. You
know what I'm talking about. That time when you tried so hard to do everything right, just to end up forgotten and alone. You made a solid attempt, strove for perfection, tried to make an impact, gave it your best, and "poof" just like that you were abandoned. Abandoned by supporters, abandoned by friends, abandoned by a spouse, abandoned by kids, abandoned by the church, abandoned by parents, abandoned by teammates, abandoned by God. Well.... not abandoned by God actually. Because whether we realize it or not, God isn't dictated by others. God doesn't just abandon people and forget their needs. God is faithful! Joseph needed to remember this truth... God is faithful!

Fact is, God is so faithful that when we are abandoned, God uses that hurt to empower us. So, when the world forgot about Joseph, God took that bad and turned it into something precious. God used the loneliness to prepare Joseph for his tour of duty as Pharaoh's second in command. In the same way, we've been made more than conquerors. When we are hurt and wronged, God gives us victory by refining us in him. Such a gift is worth much more than gold or silver!

It stinks to be alone in the world. It stinks to be abandoned and forgotten. But God is faithful and just. He will not abandoned us to the grave! Always know that God remembers, even when the world forgets.

- Chris Johnson

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pause and Refresh

I grew up going to a small congregation in the time of the Jule Miller filmstrips, tracts about hell and the 5 steps of salvation, bible bowl, youth camps, area-wide singings, gospel meetings… I remember transcribing cassette tapes of an entire Creation vs. Evolution series by Burt Thompson. Then there were college devotionals, retreats and my very first trip to the Tulsa Soulwinning Workshop.

Since it was difficult to give credence to anything by anyone outside the Church of Christ at that time, it really was a small world after all. The AIM atmosphere loosened up my safety grip by gently challenging concepts and by expanding my approved authors list.

Once that door was opened, I dove into The Experiencing God studies, Beth Moore studies, Women of Faith conferences… Now I can’t even begin to keep up with all the books, podcasts, CD’s and group studies on DVD that are available. There are countless Christian resources on dieting, marriage, finances, pornography, youth ministry…
It can all be too much.

By no means am I “anti” any of these things. In fact, I’m packing for the Pepperdine Bible Lectures while I write this! I’ve worked in the Christian book industry and spent a huge chunk of my paycheck there. I try to take advantage of anything and everything to better myself and find encouragement in my daily walk. I’m just saying that at my worst, when I’m checked out of my one-on-one time with God, Christianity can begin to look an awful lot like the self-help industry. I can see how those outside Christ might make that mistake as well. The pursuit of all these things can become addictive, needing a hit of the next thing to keep up the spiritual high.

This is nothing new. Even back in the 1500’s John of the Cross noted that “Persons expend all their effort in seeking spiritual pleasure and consolation; they never tire, therefore, of reading books; they begin, now one meditation, now another, in their pursuit of this pleasure which they desire to experience in the things of God.”
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far is that even the things of God are never a replacement for God. The value of all these things is either enhanced or diminished by the state of my soul, whether or not I’ve taken the time to acknowledge my ever-present God, whether or not we’re on speaking terms.

Without camaraderie with Christ, I tend to take a more heady slant… to the point that I have even questioned someone’s experience of God simply because they didn’t appear to have the same level of theology as me or read the same Bible translation as mine... If that seems correct to you, then it might be a good idea to take a step back and ask yourself how God reveals Himself in this world. (Answer: There is more than one correct answer.)

In the mid 1920’s one Coca-Cola slogan was “Pause and Refresh Yourself.” And I look at all these incredible opportunities to expand my spiritual horizons as deep and meaningful times of refreshment. But the true bubbly burn of that first sip is drinking deep of the beauty of my Savior, living in my baptism, basking in grace, escaping this world for a moment in the unseen… That’s where I really get my money’s worth. That’s the real thing!

- Angie Burns